The hooter sounded for full time in the pool match between Cal and Temple in Saturday’s action at the Collegiate Rugby Championship at PPL Park; Cal, up 50-0, could easily have booted the ball into touch and gone into the locker room, but instead they went for another try, and succeeded amid a hail of boos from Temple fans.
Since then, commenters on RUGBYMag.com and readers writing to your Editor have said Cal showed bad sportsmanship. This is an unfair judgment on Cal, and here’s why:
1. Players are expected to play rugby. Everywhere in the world, if the game is going on, you are expected to play. No one outside the United States worries about running up the score – to kick the ball to touch when you have the chance to play is an insult.
2. Where does it end? Do you start saying a team winning by a lot should allow their opponents to score so they feel good about themselves? Are Dartmouth (34-0 over Penn), Navy (57-0 over Villanova), Delaware (34-0 over Florida), UCLA (41-0 over Villanova), Penn State (48-7 over NC State, St. Joseph’s (48-0 over Villanova), Kutztown (39-0 over Virginia Tech) and even Temple (38-0 over Villanova) jerks for blowing other teams out?
Temple had no trouble thumping Villanova when it suited them. And they should have, that’s rugby.
3. The seedings for the playoffs were based on points scored (this was a change from the expected points difference, a change made after press time for the event program, by the way). At the time, Cal had scored 105 points, and the final try gave them 110, the most of any team, ensuring them the #1 seed in the quarterfinals - which, by the way, is the point of pool play.
Was that overkill? No. Coming up after that game was Life v. Delaware. Life had scored 68 points in two games. It is completely reasonable to think they were capable of scoring 40 or more against even a team as good as Delaware.
4. In the end, Life scored 24 against Delaware to give them 92 points, so, no, Cal didn’t need that last try. But they didn’t know that at the time. Points mattered.
I helped found a rugby club in Olympia, Wash., and the first game we ever played as a club was a 7s game against ORSU out of Oregon. On the first play, an ORSU player steamrolled me and raced in for a try. We lost 57-0. I didn’t blame ORSU or hate them or feel they treated us poorly. I learned a lot from that game, just as I did as a 15-year-old in a 46-0 loss to Loughborough school in 1982 (tries were 4 points then).
When I started coaching, and my first-year team, at the time 0-5, was playing the defending national champions in a league match, I asked the opposing coach to play her best players and run all their plays.
“We’re not going to get better if you go soft on us,” I said. We lost 46-5, but eventually learned enough to win a game and, a year later, beat the team that had crushed us before.
So I know about being blown out. It stinks. And I feel for any of those teams and players who lost big. But that’s the way of sports, especially at a tournament or championship level. Play better, or you’re going to get beat. And when the tiebreakers and seedings involved points scored or points difference, you better believe scoring points, any points, is important.
And booing a team because the players are doing what they're supposed to do isn't exactly sportsmanlike, either.